Friday 23 February 2018

Mario Balotelli and brave Joe Hart get City out of jail

Man City 1 Borussia Dortmund 1
Champions League Group D

Manchester City's Mario Balotelli equalises from the penalty spot during the Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad Stadium
Manchester City's Mario Balotelli equalises from the penalty spot during the Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad Stadium

Henry Winter

Mario Balotelli rescued Manchester City with a late penalty, but it was a miracle that they were still in contention.

Only a series of saves from the brilliant Joe Hart kept City in it. In tumbling rain, City are making incredibly heavy weather of the Champions League again.

Balotelli's moment came with a minute remaining, with the chance from the spot after Neven Subotic handled. Dortmund's 'keeper, Roman Weidenfeller, tried to psyche out Balotelli, an ambitious task with an opponent as complex as the Italian.

Balotelli ignored Weidenfeller and when the 'keeper danced early from his line, City's No 45 calmly stroked the ball past him.

It was a goal and a point that City did not deserve. They were outplayed on the pitch and outsung off it. The champions of Germany gave the champions of England a real lesson here.

But for Hart, City's dream of qualifying from Group D would have been even more distant. He made four saves from Mario Gotze, and two from Ilkay Gundogan that were of the very highest order.

City's manager, Roberto Mancini, had questioned Hart's right to talk about the team after the defeat at Real Madrid last month. Mancini should be thanking Hart this time.

England's No 1 was as good as the outfield was poor. City were too laboured, too uncertain. Sergio Aguero buzzed around with typical ambition but found Weidenfeller too good. Samir Nasri was too subdued.

City lacked width, meaning a real congestion in the centre. Dortmund were in charge for most of the game, flowing forward in yellow-and-black waves like New York taxi-cabs rushing to collect wealthy fares on Wall Street.

Gotze was terrific, so was Marco Reus, who did beat Hart, sparking chants of "you only sing when you're winning" from the marvellous German fans.

It had taken Dortmund an hour to find a way past the outstanding Hart on a night of goalkeeping masterclasses. The England stopper had been so good, so defiant when Gotze in particular came calling, that Wayne Rooney tweeted: "Have to say Joe Hart has been incredible. For me the best keeper in the world."

Along with Hart and Weidenfeller, the real stars of a terrific, if scoreless, first half had been the Borussia supporters, a mass of yellow and black, jumping up and down in synchronised fashion, engaging in rhythmic clapping and English-style chanting, all powered by the percussive beat of their drummer.

They even managed an Andy Williams number, more an old favourite of theirs rather than any topical tribute to the recently deceased singer.

Immediately in front of them, Weidenfeller was also impressing. When Edin Dzeko's flick sent Nasri through, Dortmund's No 1 was out quickly to block. Dzeko's involvement was a slight surprise; the Bosnian did well during his time in Germany but Balotelli had given Mats Hummels, Dortmund's German international centre-half, a torrid time at the Euros. Balotelli started on the bench.

Looking on from the smart seats was Shinji Kagawa, watching his old Bundesliga team-mates, and Alex Ferguson, assessing Dortmund's many talents like Robert Lewan-dowski, who soon headed over from a Reus cross.

Vincent Kompany was then caught out badly by the movement of Lewandowski, the Pole then slipping the ball right to Gotze. The German international, a constructive influence in the first period, forced Hart into a fine save, the Englishman diving to divert the ball on to his right-hand upright and to safety.

City were enjoying chances but Weidenfeller stood firm. When David Silva ushered Aguero through, Weidenfeller saved. The 32-year-old was outstanding, doing brilliantly to thwart Aguero after Dzeko and Silva combined.

Kompany was experiencing mixed fortunes. Soon the Belgian was deservedly cautioned for fouling Reus with one of the more obvious bodychecks of the season. Kompany's second Group D yellow sees him out of City's visit to Ajax.

Kompany then demonstrated his better qualities, sliding in to clear the ball as Lukasz Piszczek raced in, the defender milking the perfect challenge.

Weidenfeller was soon the focus again, the keeper pushing over Aguero's shot from the edge of the area. Weidenfeller and Hart seemed to be playing a game of "anything you can do, I can do better". Hart was in magnificent form, saving from Gotze by spreading himself almost into a full Peter Schmeichel-style star jump.

When Gotze attacked, Hart somehow pushed the ball on to the bar.

City should then have scored following a good move, beginning with Aguero, bringing a cross from Pablo Zabaleta, a flick from Dzeko and then a wretched finish from Silva, who sidefooted wildly over. Inevitably, the half finished with a save, this time Hart spreading himself to save from Gundogan. As the new half unfolded, Weidenfeller repelled Dzeko's effort.

Then Hart used both hands to push away another strike from Gotze. But when Jack Rodwell, who had replaced the hobbling Javi Garcia, delivered a poor back-pass, Reus raced through and swept the ball past Hart.

Normal service then resumed as the England No 1 saved from Gundogan and Gotze. Dortmund were in total charge, and Lewandowski missed a golden chance to make it 2-0. Mancini tried to freshen up his attack, sending on Balotelli with 10 minutes remaining.

With Aleksandar Kolarov and Garcia already on, Mancini had used up all his substitutes, so there was no opportunity for Carlos Tevez.

Frustration coursed through City. Yaya Toure was booked for dissent. Hart punched clear Marcel Schmelzer's inswinging free-kick. Then Weidenfeller threw himself to his right to force away Aguero's header. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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